Nina Davenport’s ‘First Comes Love’ Docu About Single Motherhood Is Touching And Infuriating
I started crying during the first scene in First Comes Love – a new documentary from filmmaker Nina Davenport from HBO Films about her decision to embark on single motherhood at age 41. It wasn’t an ugly big cry, but my eyes welled up watching Nina’s baby niece Lydia have a discussion with a house cat about the cat needing to take a nap. It was adorable, and precious, and the sort of thing we can all recall our own kids doing, the small struggle to remove a sweater, the yawning and the little girl exclaiming that she was “tired and needed to take a nap too.” There were many extremely touching moments in this movie, and because I’m biased towards parents in general, I found myself really wanting to like Nina and cheering her on as she made her journey towards getting what she wants most in life, the chance to have a baby.
Until I wasn’t.
Did you watch the movie? I hope you did, because I need to discuss this with people, but if you haven’t seen it yet, go ahead and do that and come back after and tell me what you thought, because I think it’s the sort of movie that deserves discussion and debate. Nina wants to have a baby. Badly. She is concerned about her rapidly declining fertility so she questions her friends and family members what they think about her becoming a single mother. Her retired auto-exectuive father finds the whole idea absurd and wants to be left alone to read his newspaper. Nina’s mother recently passed away after having a “heart attack or stroke.” Her brother’s wives are positive but cautionary, ultimately encouraging Nina as they speak to her from messy yet well-appointed Nancy Meyers-esque kitchens and richly decorated living rooms. These women know the trials and tribulations of motherhood, but it’s obvious they understand them from the point of two-parent households and video game systems and family vacations and orthodontia. Nina can expect a different set of struggles due to her not-exactly-lucrative career choice of documentary filmmaker. Nina makes her decision and enlists her best friend Amy to administer fertility shots and act as birthing partner and her other best friend Eric to provide the sperm to impregnate Nina via IVF, all under the agreement that he will bear no financial or emotional consequences of fatherhood. He doesn’t even wish to witness the labor. Nina’s father is less-than-enthusiastic about her pregnancy, suggesting they “call the abortionist” when she tells him she is pregnant. Her father is obviously playing the part of crotchety soon-to-be-80-year-old-man, but Nina lingers on this scene, and you can almost feel her desperation to have her father be overjoyed at her pregnancy. He just wants to read his newspaper.
Despite Eric stating he doesn’t want to be there for the labor, he does anyway, and so do many of her other friends and family. Nina acknowledges this, miserable and in the middle of a contraction she states ‘I’ll never get this much attention again.”
And this is about where I lost all of my warm fuzzy feelings towards Nina, because even though I applaud her for filming the reality of her day to day experiences being a single mom, she comes across as being so whiny and pampered that I couldn’t help but feel even at age 41 she should have grown up a lot more before having a kid. Her apartment, all though in need of repair, seems gigantic for New York, and she has a steady stream of friends all too willing to help her with raising her son Jasper. Even Eric who seemed like after his job as sperm donor was completed would be out of the picture, shows up to hold and help care for his son. She visits her father in Michigan and complains that being with him makes her regress, and she pouts when he speaks of her brother’s accomplishments at his law firm. It’s obvious Nina expects financial help from Daddy, and when she realizes he won’t be giving it to her she exclaims that she “has to grow up.”
I didn’t have issues because of Nina’s choice. She choose to become a single mother, and that is fine. She should be allowed to complain about how hard it is, to wish circumstances with the people in her life were different. To bemoan dating again after she ends a relationship with a man that started when she was carrying her son Jasper. But I couldn’t help but juxtapose Nina’s fancy NYC documentary filmmaker life with those of single moms the world over who don’t have the type of support Nina does. Who aren’t white. Who live in extreme poverty. Who don’t have nice boyfriends who come over to help assemble IKEA bookcases. Who don’t have handsome gay baby daddies they can analyze child-rearing with. And part of me couldn’t help but think “Hey lady, this is what YOU wanted, and no one said it was going to be easy.”
It’s a gorgeous and honest portrayal of one woman’s struggle with the reality of single motherhood. It’s touching and brave and at times amazingly humorous, plus, all the babies and kids are ridiculously adorable. Nina is fearless in depicting the realities of labor and childbirth, all bloody and complicated and raw. I loved many aspects of the movie, especially scenes of old family film footage interspersed with Nina and Jasper’s day to day life, but it all felt like watching a movie from a foreign country that I’m just not that familiar with, the land of the NYC artisté who embarks on single motherhood and then whines about it a lot. But at the end of the day, we need these stories of women who make the decision to embark on single motherhood, in order to let their voices be heard. We need to get over the idea that the best families are those with two parents, and it’s with bravery and wit that Nina shows us that sometimes things don’t always work out that way. If it takes a village, then Nina certainly has that, a diverse, helpful, beautifully art directed village who any parent, regardless of relationship status, would be overjoyed to have. I just wished Nina had reflected on that more.
I’ll be curious to hear what you thought.